In this article, you will learn my best free tips on how to focus when reading books to improve your bookish life quickly and easily.
I have learned these hacks myself over the years as an avid reader with a lot on my plate: working a full-time professional job; working on my blog; reading over 100 books per year; and being an average person doing things like exercising, watching tv, taking care of my family, doing household chores, and even moving houses last year!
It can be really hard to focus on an activity as simple as reading when: our modern world has placed so much on our plates, our culture values the constant hustle, AND technology is designed to distract us.
Instead of just sitting down and reading, it's as if we need to make an effort (or many efforts) to be able to do so effectively.
How to Focus When Reading
Below are quick and easy tips you can try now to learn how to focus when reading, followed by more details about each one.
Before we dive in, I want to note that I think it's initially most important to think about exactly what is holding you personally back in focusing on reading. Maybe you have a chaotic environment, or you have limited time, or you don't feel well, or you struggle with words, or you don't know what to read. The possibilities are potentially limitless!
So, if you first identify and understand YOUR specific struggles, you can better review these hacks on how to focus on reading, pick and choose the ones that best support YOU, and then implement them in ways that best help you solve YOUR particular problem.
There is no "one size fits all" solution!
- Remove distractions, such as your phone.
- Read the right books for you.
- Choose the book format that works best for you.
- Set reasonable goals.
- Time block during a productive time for you.
- Get comfortable.
- Listen to focus music.
- Watch an ASMR room on YouTube.
- Burn a focus-themed candle.
- Be mindful.
- Know your "why" and refer back to it.
- State affirmations to yourself.
- Make reading a more active activity.
- Track your reading accomplishments.
- Maintain your general health.
- Reward yourself.
Remove distractions, such as your phone.
While there is no "one size fits all" solution to learning how to focus when reading, I think the first step most people can benefit from is to physically remove distractions. And you can start with your phone!
Our phones have become the most tremendous source of distraction for us. My brain is always overworking, and I am always tempted to grab my phone to "check something" or jot something down.
When I want to focus on reading, I first put my phone out of my physical reach. I have also limited notifications on my phone to further avoid the temptation to jump up to check a new email, etc.
If the thought of moving your phone away from you still makes you feel queasy, then try keeping paper notes of things your brain is telling you to check on your phone while you are trying to read, and then commit to checking them afterward.
In addition to your phone, you may need to identify things like noise and childcare obligations that can distract you from reading, and do your best to come up with unique solutions to try, like noise-canceling headphones.
Read the right books for you.
If you aren't reading the right book, it's going to be really hard to focus on it.
While I can fully immerse myself into heavier character driven-books, I KNOW science fiction and fantasy will ALWAYS be a struggle for me. This is also a great way to consider how to read classic books.
If you start by thinking about the last few books you loved, and they happen to have something in common, then that's a good starting point for you.
It's all about thinking about both your reading personality AND your mood and then setting yourself up for success.
For example, if it's Summertime, there's a fairly good chance you will struggle to concentrate on a book about a blizzard.
You can search the hundreds of book posts on this website to make a list of possibilities.
You can also search a book you liked on Amazon and see what other books Amazon's algorithm recommends after that book.
Of note, if you have started a book and are truly struggling with it, and it's not required reading for any particular reason, then, seriously, stop reading it. I hereby give you the right to QUIT on a book -- unless it's "required reading," of course. In that case, move along to some of the other tips here!
I personally am pretty quick to quit books I can't focus on because time is precious and life is short. I like to ask myself whether I would continue to read this book if it were my last book ever. Yes, that's dramatic, but it helps me see just how badly I want to know what happens as opposed to some arbitrary factor like I want to cross it off my list.
Choose the book format that works best for you.
After you know exactly what book to read, it's important to choose the format that will work best for you in order to reach your maximum focus.
Some people get totally immersed in audiobooks and love to multitask with them, and others prefer to actually see words on a page. Still, others like the technological advantages that come with e-reading, like adjusting the word size and making digital highlights and notes.
Do you learn best when you see, hear, or touch? Only you can answer that question, then choose a book format wisely.
Or, just try something different and see how it works for you!
Tip: If you want to try audiobooks, you can get 2 audiobooks for the price of 1 with the code LITLIFE when you start a monthly membership (which you can cancel at any time) with Libro.fm, which personally I use because it functions the same as other audiobook services, but it supports independent bookstores.
Set reasonable goals.
I'm a big fan of setting reading goals, and I find them to be extremely motivating. It gives you something to work towards, AND you can personalize it any way YOU want: more pages, more books, more time spent reading, etc.
I do note that I think it's important to make your goals reasonable. If you read one book last year, and you set a goal to read 200 books this year, chances are that you are going to get really overwhelmed and be tempted to quit--FAST.
I have found that setting and reaching goals tend to work better when you just slowly create better habits over time. And when you have motivation in the form of a reading goal, you will likewise have more motivation to focus on that reading goal.
Time block during a productive time for you.
I know a lot of people who swear by time blocking as a means of time management to focus on a particular task like reading. I don't specifically "calendar" time to read, but I do regularly read during the same hour every day, right after my husband goes to bed. So, it's kind of a time block for me to always spend this time reading.
This hour works really well for my personal reading time because my work is done for the day and my distractions are most limited. And if I waited any longer, then I would probably get too tired to read.
Think about what days and times may work best for your own reading session, whether it's five minutes or a full hour, and then either pencil it in or start referring it as your "reading time" to yourself and others so that this special time of focus begins to get the respect it deserves.
Of course, the biggest form of respect for this time is making it a non-negotiable repeatedly over time. So, time blocking may also require you to set boundaries at work or at home.
It's hard to focus on reading if you aren't comfortable. While comfort is not always a choice, such as when you are on crowded mass transportation or not feeling well, try to do whatever you can to improve your comfort before you try to focus on reading.
Whether you prefer your own reading nook, the library, a coffee shop, or the great outdoors, you will be able to focus better on what you are reading when you feel comfortable.
Listen to focus music.
It's no secret that listening to the right music while reading can help to improve focus in your brain. When I really need to concentrate on reading something difficult, I search for "focus" playlists on Spotify and Pandora and then play them softly in the background.
Alternatively, you can listen to a sound machine. I use this specific Homedics white noise machine with six nature sounds every morning when my husband is awake, but I am still trying to sleep.
Watch an ASMR room on YouTube.
Similarly, you can watch an ASMR room on YouTube to help you focus on reading. An ASMR room is an "autonomous sensory meridian response room." In more simple terms, it's a streaming video feed that provides ambient sights and sounds to make you feel like you are in a particular environment.
For example, ASMR rooms can provide such soothing environments as a forest in the Fall, with soft, mood-enhancing sounds, like leaves or soft rain falling. I also love the ASMR rooms that have coffee shop and Harry Potter themes!
I have found them to make an EXTREME improvement on my own personal ability to sit quietly and concentrate on reading. So, why not try it?!
Burn a focus-themed candle.
I'm also a big fan of aromatherapy to help me focus on reading, so it may help you too! I can actually feel a difference, especially around the scent of lavender.
Lavender is known for helping with both concentration and relaxation. I personally rely on the popular scent retailer Voluspa's French cade and lavender products on a daily basis to improve my focus.
People often say they can't "be mindful" or meditate because they mess up when they try. But, "messing up" by getting distracted, and noticing it, is the *exact* purpose of mindfulness.
It's not about being perfectly focused at all times.
It's about making an effort to identify it when you lose focus and then telling yourself to resume your focus again. Over time, this practice helps you improve your focus capabilities.
Know your "why" and refer back to it.
If you really want to get better at anything, including your reading concentration, you should identify "why" you want to improve, so that you can remind yourself of this motivating factor when you need to get back on track.
Without a purpose, what's it all for?
You may want to focus on reading so you can: relax more, learn a new skill, actively participate in your book club, educate yourself on a topic, solve a problem, plan for something in the future, and so on.
So, then, when you have to choose between concentrating on reading or doing something else (even picking up your phone), you can remind yourself that reading better serves your ultimate purpose to get back on track.
I encourage you to be fairly specific when identifying your "why." If you simply state that you "want to be a better person," it's not as motivating as saying something as specific as you "want to plan the perfect weekend Winter ski trip for your family this year."
In this way, your "why" can go hand in hand with goal setting to help you stay focused on reading.
State affirmations to yourself.
I'm also a firm believer in affirmations and positive outlooks both in life and in reading, although, of course, this is not always possible. But, if you describe yourself as "not a reader" or tell yourself "you're a failure" for not finishing a book, it becomes that much harder to focus on this task.
The right attitude can sometimes be exactly what it takes to set you up for success. Some helpful affirmations can be:
- "I am a reader."
- "I will start concentrating on reading this now."
- "I deserve to focus on reading."
- "Reading is an important focus to me."
Make reading a more active activity.
The fact that reading is a passive activity can make it difficult to focus on, especially for those who are extroverts and/or have high energy levels.
Try doing something related to reading in addition to reading in order to better maintain your concentration, such as making highlights, taking notes, talking about the book with someone, reading out loud and/or using your finger or ruler as you move through lines and pages.
Track your reading accomplishments.
Similarly, tracking your reading accomplishments can not only help you make reading more active, but it can also keep you motivated.
There's just about nothing I love more than a list. You can use whatever type of reading tracker works as the best book essential for you, in order to give you that little boost of satisfaction when you complete your own specific goals related to reading concentration.
It can be a list, checklist, calendar, journal, etc. I personally choose to track the titles and about of books I have read, and I do so on GoodReads. I love looking back on it each month and each year!
Maintain your general health.
General health is a necessary component of reading concentration. If you aren't properly eating, sleeping, hydrating, exercising, and otherwise taking good care of your body, your brain and your ability to focus on the mental task of reading will undoubtedly decline.
These types of changes are never easy to make, but they are often the most impactful. And, many of the tips here can be applied to bettering your health. For example, you can set a goal of drinking a certain amount of water per day, track the days you exercise, and affirm that you deserve self-care.
I have seen firsthand myself, in very serious ways, how severely a lack of self-care can make it virtually impossible to focus, and how much easier it is (and better my life and health are) when I do take care of my body. I hope you do too.
Last but not least, give yourself something to celebrate when you successfully focus on reading. It can be as simple as a quick break to do something else you really want to do.
As an added bonus, when you repeatedly focus on reading, then follow it with a personalized reward, you will begin to form a positive habit that feels good and is easier for you to continue to do.
Conclusion: The Focused Reading Challenge
You have now learned how to focus when reading. As a reminder, reading this post is simply the first step in improving your reading concentration.
Nothing changes if nothing changes!
So, I challenge you to really think about these tips, pick and choose what works best for you, then implement them in your reading life.
Focused reading is a practice, and it starts...now!